Bricks, clicks, and why York is in a great position to capitalise on the latest retail trends

There were some fascinating pointers for York retailing at our business event, says BID Executive Director Andrew Lowson

Imagine going into a shop – and finding there was nothing for sale inside. It seems like a surreal idea but stores like this are already opening.

The trend for a no-shopping shop – currently only in the United States – is the latest innovative response to the rise of digital commerce. And interestingly, it points to a future where bricks-and-mortar stores still have a role to play.

Shops are now being opened purely as advertisements for a brand’s online offering, Jack Stratten told guests at the BID’s York Business Week event, The Future of Bricks and Clicks. And this was just one of the concepts explored by Jack, senior consultant at Insider Trends, the London-based retail futures agency. 

He peppered a fascinating talk with examples of brands which were making waves with new uses for a traditional High Street shop. One was the Bike Shed in Shoreditch, London, which isn’t so much a shop for biker merchandise as a bar, cafe, gallery and barbers. Jack talked about retailers building communities online – whose members would then travel to a store to socialise, browse and buy.

Online shopping fatigue


Jack Stratten at his talk at our York Business Week event

We are all aware of the negative impact of digital retailing on shopping streets. The shockwaves are still being felt. Recently John Lewis announced a target for 70% of its sales to be online by 2025. And we all know what happened to its York store.

However, Jack pointed to research carried out during the Covid lockdown that suggested a certain amount of online shopping fatigue is setting in. Shoppers are wising up to the ever-present algorithms which think they know what we want. They are fed up with shopping for, say, trainers online  – and browsing through 50 identical ecommerce sites.

Meanwhile, after years of shops closing, we are beginning to see online brands opening bricks-and-mortar outlets – as a cost-effective advertising tool, if nothing else. And an old-school store like Argos is also adapting, by leveraging the click and collect model to benefit from shoppers’ desire to pick up their purchase rather than wait for a delivery.


The Walkers Crisps Sarnie Club

York is well placed to capitalise on these trends. Our latest Visa data for Q3 (July-September 2021) confirms that the city enjoyed a strong trading summer. Spend was up for retail, leisure and, most strongly of all, restaurants – where it rose by 70% compared to Q2. At the same time, data from O2 highlighted that 65% of visitors to York came from within a two-hour drive away. People are looking for daytime experiences, and our city delivers.

This is why experts like Jack are saying that getting the right mix of retail and the ‘experience economy’ is crucial for cities moving forward. He shared many interesting examples, such as 

  • menswear retailer Jacamo, which opened a pop-up pub where men could discuss mental health issues;
  • ice cream brand Magnum which created a pleasure pop-up, taking it round the country
  • and snack brand Walkers, which invited people to sample crisp sandwiches in a reconfigured empty shop.

York could and should attract high-profile names like these. As a BID, we will look to work with other agencies and enlightened landlords to put together packages that help bring eye-catching retailing experiences to the city centre. And we will be alert to online-only brands looking to make the move into bricks and mortar. Where better than York, with its huge footfall and supportive retailing community, to begin that journey?

We are hopeful that city landlords are becoming aware of the need to offer flexible, short-term or rolling leases to match modern retailing trends. If so, just think – one day soon, we could all be queuing up on Coney Street for a Walkers crisp sandwich…